Hiring a Publicist (con’t)
The other thing I learned, and this actually came out during the interview process, was that you can hire the best publicist in the world but if your publisher isn’t doing its job with distribution, you may as well not bother. One of the publicist’s many jobs is to create a buzz around your book. If she’s successful, she’ll make people–bloggers, reviewers, readers, bookstore owners–want it. But if those people can’t get your book fast and without hassle or even in advance of the official pub date, they’ll never come knocking again. Of course, my publisher is through a university press and normally they have a decent track record for distribution. But the model at Loyola University Maryland in particular emphasizes book design from start to finish, focusing very little on promotion. That’s fair enough–they are, after all, also granting degrees to students in the Book Publishing department while simultaneously running the press. But would all their other obligations mean my book might fail to get distributed properly? Only one way to find out…
When the publisher and I finally both had the same block of time free to talk on the phone, it was after 8pm on a weeknight and he’d just finished helping put his children to bed. Meantime, I was in bed with the flu. After a year and a half communicating with this person through bare minimum emails, often with months of unknowns between, it felt good to hear a real voice on the end of the line. Twenty minutes taught me a world of things: Flashes of War will be distributed by Ingram, the #1 distributor in the world. The minute Loyola releases the book, it will be available to every single bookstore that uses Ingram (who doesn’t?!) because they are stocking more than 40% of their shelves with books from this distributor. Book sellers see it in the Ingram database and decide if they want to stock it. If my publicist does the job I’m hoping for, that decision will be easy for book sellers everywhere, especially in cities where I have a reading or connection.
Within 1 1/2 weeks of my book being published, it will also go up for sale on Amazon, the largest bookseller in history. The press will create and run an Amazon page for Flashes of War and, in fact, this is where they’re generating most of their sales. But what about my website–can I sell copies of the book independently online and also in person? The publisher answered with a resounding y-e-s and, in fact, encouraged me to sell books that way more than any other method because it will give me the highest profit. (Authors can purchase copies of their own book at 50%, so the profit is significantly more than any net royalty check is going to be coming from my publisher a few years from now. ) Somehow, I had thought maybe the publisher would view my own sales as competition, but I was completely wrong about all that. Lesson learned? Make sure your publisher uses Ingram and, furthermore, get the facts about your rights to sell your own copies, at much greater profit, directly from your own website. (Addendum: Selling books yourself prevents those sale from being counted on lists, like the New York Times bestsellers lists. Decide what’s right for your career and financial goals, or enroll in my Literary Stewardship e-course for a gazillion details on how all of this breaks down in the end.)
While Ingram will handle most bookstores–large, small, chain, and indy–my publisher informed me that Barnes & Noble is different. They require publishers to apply to have a book considered for sale in their stores. But there is good news…my publisher applies for me and I don’t have to do a thing but hope they agree to stock the book. Again, this is where the publicist comes into play: If there’s sufficient buzz around my book, or especially around any events I’m doing near a B&N store, they’re more likely to stock it on their shelves.
What began as a simple venture in hiring a little help turned into a mini-course in book distribution. It’s also helped me see how intricately all the parts of promoting a book need to line up in order for things to go as smoothly as possible. Everyone has to do their part, people need to follow up, and if any glitches arise they must be dealt with promptly…especially in those 6 months leading up to the book’s release and the 1 month immediately following. What happens during that time that’s so crucial, you might ask? Here’s a sample play-by-play from my publicist’s website:
- 3-6 months before release create full publicity plan, press kit,
press release, and send out copies of ARCs (Advanced Readers Copy) to
long lead reviews such as Library Journal and Kirkus.
- 3-4 months in advance plan book tour and events and schedule radio/tv
- 1-3 months before release send queries to bloggers and book reviewers, create book trailer
- 1 month – release follow up on all leads, continue to send out
ARCs, keep all reviewers up to date on developing news, follow up with
reviewers, create weekly PR Reports for author and publisher.
- During the week of the release, track sales and rankings, hand
hold with the author, promote positive reviews, re-pitch reviewers with
high sales, supervise release events to ensure they run smoothly and are
- Three weeks after release continue weekly PR reports, sales and ranking info.
- 1 month after release, PR wrap up unless there is an additional publicity story.
- After PR campaign completion, authors may request follow up such as book awards submissions, Wikki pages, and ongoing events.
Dizzy yet? I was too! The long and short of it is: my publisher is on my side and has the book distribution down pat. If I need extra copies of my own book for events or web sales, I can order them and they will be printed and shipped within 10 days. Now I just need to make sure the book is listed (on the cover, in bookstores, and by Ingram) in the appropriate categories (ex. memoir, women’s literature, young adult, etc.). It’s fiction–that part is easy. But I don’t want to get boxed into the “regional” shelf in North Carolina stores. I don’t want to only end up in “military” sections by someone who might read the title and make assumptions. At the same time, I wouldn’t mind being in both those places either…as long as it’s not in lieu of any front-of-store or staff-pick shelves, the fiction shelves, the new authors shelf, etc. My publicist, apparently, can talk with the publisher and see that the categories are used appropriately. And so it goes.
The final cover will be in before the holiday and I should have my official ARCs date and formal pub date not too long after that. It feels like a roller coaster (with a seat belt) and somehow I know this is only the beginning…